Defense Secretary Robert Gates finally is stating the obvious. Agence France-Presse has the story:
Amid growing clamor against the war in Afghanistan, Defense Secretary Robert Gates has cautioned that large numbers of US troops will remain even after a "limited" July 2011 drawdown.
Despite mounting casualties and public doubts, Gates said Sunday the US-led force was making headway and Taliban insurgents would not be able to wait out American forces because a major troop withdrawal was not on the horizon.
"I think we need to reemphasize the message that we are not leaving Afghanistan in July of 2011," said Gates, referring to a deadline set by President Barack Obama for the start of a withdrawal.
Gates wants to assure everyone that the Taliban can't just run out the clock, because the U.S. will still be there, with a lot of troops, which is no surprise. And of course, The Guardian already had reported that plans to hand over security to Afghan forces by the end of this year have been dropped.
As it always has been, the question is what exactly those U.S. troops are supposed to be accomplishing. In the north, the province of Baghlam is slipping from government control. To the east, U.S. forces already withdrew from the Korengal Valley. To the south, the big spring battle in Marja accomplished pretty much nothing. A couple weeks ago, McClatchy reported that Taliban attacks are growing more sophisticated. Afghan "President" Hamid Karzai has been reaching out to them, and Pakistan is helping them. Of course, U.S. "contractors" are helping the Taliban, too. And of course, Al Qaeda is all but gone from Afghanistan, even as it establishes itself from Asia to the Middle East and various parts of Africa.
But the U.S. will be staying in Afghanistan. For a long time. With no end date in sight, and even the long-suspect timeline for the beginning of a withdrawal looking more and more like the beginning of nothing much at all.
To be continued.